LUMBERTON — When the Robeson County commissioners meet Monday, County Manager Ricky Harris will submit the results of a survey on how benefits and perks received by those commissioners compare with those received by commissioners in other counties.
Early last week Harris said he was finishing his report, which he said he would provide to any commissioners who requested it in advance of the meeting. He would not allow a reporter to see it.
On Sept. 4, the county commissioners unanimously voted in favor of a resolution presented by Commissioner Tom Taylor that called for Harris to do the survey. Taylor said at the time that Robeson County “needs to be in line with other counties.”
Included in the study are commissioners’ salaries, their monthly travel stipend, health insurance, retirement and the amount and use of discretionary funds. The items studied are all perks that have historically been approved by commissioners without open discussion by being included in new fiscal year budgets that take effect each July 1, a method that keeps the public in the dark and has been criticized by experts on government.
The Robesonian has written a series of stories and editorials on the commissioners’ compensation after the newspaper found that they are the fourth-highest-paid in the state when salary and a $700 monthly travel stipend are combined — their stipend is the highest in the state. Each commissioner also receives $40,000 a year in discretionary funds to allocate to organizations and projects, money that is distributed without a vote of the full board; both the commissioners and their families can receive free health insurance; and the commissioners have a 457 retirement plan for which the county matches 4 percent of their salaries.
The commissioners on Oct. 1 voted to end a deferred-compensation plan that allowed them to continue drawing a salary after they left office.
Taylor did not return a reporter’s phone calls requesting a comment for this story. He did say during an interview prior to his Nov. 6 re-election victory that he had some concerns about what commissioners receive in compensation for their service, but said he would not comment specifically on the issue until after he reviews Harris’ study.
Other commissioners who did not return a reporter’s phone calls for comments include Raymond Cummings, Jerry Stephens and Lance Herndon.
Commissioner Noah Woods, the board’s chairman, said he plans to study the report carefully before he makes any comments or recommends any board action.
“I’m sure the board will study the report carefully and take action on its recommendations at the appropriate time,” he said.
Commissioner Roger Oxendine, one of the first commissioners to publicly get behind the study, said Thursday that he still believes having Harris study the issues of commissioner compensation was the right thing to do. He declined, however, to make any other specific comments.
“I’ll look at what the study says,” Oxendine said.
Edge said that if the study shows that the benefits are out of line with those offered commissioners in other counties, he will support making necessary changes.
“I’ve already tried to get some changes,” he told The Robesonian, referring to his motion at the Sept. 4 board meeting calling for the discretionary funds now available for each commissioner to use as he see fits to be cut from $40,000 to $20,000. Only Taylor voted with Edge to make the cut.
Commissioner Hubert Sealey said he is looking forward to finding out the results of Harris’ study.
“It’s going to be interesting,” he said. “If it’s found that Robeson County benefits are out of line with the other counties, I will support whatever the board recommends that we do.”
In other business, the commissioners will consider a resolution of support for naming the bridge to be built as part of a reconfiguration of Exit 22, the intersection of Interstate 95 and U.S. 301, for Jeremiah Goodson, a Lumberton police officer who was shot and killed on July 17.
Stig Larson, a Fayetteville police officer, will be present to explain his efforts to gain community support for naming the bridge for Goodson, a decision that will be made by the state Department of Transportation. Larson already has received the support of the Lumberton City Council and surpassed a goal of 2,000 signatures on a petition aimed at demonstrating “overwhelming support” from the community for naming the bridge in honor of the police officer.
Goodson was killed while attempting to serve a warrant for the arrest of 27-year-old Marques Brown, who is accused of shooting Goodson multiple times as he approached Brown’s vehicle at the Xpress Depot at 5030 Fayetteville Road. Brown is charged with first-degree murder and is being held in jail without bail.
Also on Monday:
The meeting is at 6 p.m. in the commissioners’ room of the county administration building on North Elm Street.